Regulation and standards (or lack thereof) in the canine industry have been a bone of contention in recent times. There has been pressure by reputable industry authorities and professionals to have standardized procedures that blanket defense, law enforcement and private contractors – therefore producing consistency in the industry irrespective of your professional orientation.
The fundamental basis of a detection dog’s mission is to provide an olfactory detection layer of search capability in support of law enforcement and/or appropriate agencies or organisations, for the detection of mission associated target substances within an expected operational context, environment, and climate.
The canine search asset is one of robust nature with phenomenal olfactory capabilities, but requires specialist canine professionals, with a deep understanding of canine behaviour and a conditioned awareness and understanding of search mechanics and methodologies. Without the appropriate training, validation, maintenance, and operational exposure the detection dog team will lend itself to falsely completing a search and therefore rendering the area inadequately screened – which could lead to undesirable and even catastrophic consequences irrespective of the specialist search discipline.
It is incumbent on the client to engage in a dialogue which requests documentation that processes have been followed to ensure the validity of the contractor and to ensure the contractor has the evidence and history to provide the service that is required/requested. Some such processes are outlined below.
The validation process involves an assessment of the detection dog team’s performance and provides a proficiency benchmark which meets a minimum standard of agency policy pertaining to mission requirements.
Validation is first administered upon successful completion of initial training followed by a series of blind assessments conducted by an independent supervisor or assessor. The validation assessments vary, although, the basic rubric involves a double-blind scenario and is inclusive of odour generalisation and discrimination test, and operational contextual and discipline related problem solving.
The validation process should ideally be conducted regularly throughout the year independent of continuation (maintenance) training. There are systems which involve an assessment based on the handler’s competencies and teaming up of a dog or any additional detection dog they acquire.
Proficiency targets should be set at a maintenance level to establish if the detection dog team upholds the professional standard that is required by the end user. Standard benchmarks should simply be set as a pass or fail level. If the team fails to meet their requirements, they should have the opportunity to revisit the criteria and make amendments to their training schedule in order to reassess. Reports should be provided by the sessional trainer and therefore provide evidence that maintenance training has been upheld.
The credibility and reliability of specialist detection dog teams rests upon the training and validation of both the canine and the handler. The validation process must be fair, honest, open, and consistent. It should accurately reflect the detection dogs search discipline requirements.
The Assessor’s qualification should be a matter of governmental or organisational policy. Assessors should undergo their individual standardized processes and should obtain an observer to eliminate discrepancies.
The governing bodies should reflect that training records are maintained and made available for scrutiny from the most recent annual validation assessment through to the following annual validation assessment. Training records should be maintained from the first pass through to the working life of the canine. Training records that include failures, incorrect responses, or behavioural inconsistencies should also be included. Furthermore, with the inclusion of progress reports of any remedial action that was taken in the in the subsequent related assessment.
As with any industry, there is a range of skill and competency levels seen between different providers. Unfortunately, irrespective of your professional orientation, selection must be based on performance. This will ensure that consistencies are met and that value for money frameworks include the quality output derived from the professional.
Scientifically supported validation methods are essential to mission focused end-user requirements as an operational search asset for it to be deemed competent and capable in deployments. Specialist search dogs have repeatedly shown they are a capable resource in recovering contraband (and much more) in complex environments, that would not have been possible with the use of traditional methods. Standard operating procedures is a launching pad to consistency in contractor performance output and the delivery of a quality product to end users, as a byproduct the canine search asset resource will remain a superior asset for the future.
It is incumbent on government agencies to produce and enforce SOP’s for security and detection dogs, this should not limit the need for companies to undertake appropriate due diligence.